I remember back to one of my earliest sales jobs when I was told I was too valuable as a salesperson to get promoted further into the store leadership development program.
Now keep in mind this wasn't a company I just joined, this was almost three years into my time with them. I had joined as a seasonal employee, and I outperformed much more tenured employees while working less hours. I was kept on after my initial season was up, then was asked to go full time.
Not too long after that I was asked if I could switch departments to help an underpforming one. I said :no problem." Within a quarter that department had gone from one of the last in the region to top 30%. Then another quarter later my team/department was consistently top two in the district.
I helped train other salespeople, I came in early, stayed late, and worked off the clock when needed to get the small stuff done in the department. It was during this time that I was granted access to the first leg of the leadership development program. A couple more quarters go by and the team around me had matured to a point that I was asked to once again join an underperforming department.
Now I was selling a whole new set of products that I had barely ever used and knew very little about.
Even with that new challenge, in my second month I was second in the district in sales performance. This is when I asked if I could move to the final leg of the leadership development program. This time I was told, "not yet" and I was given a list of things to work on. "Fair enough," I thought to myself and I really set myself against achieving these goals. The next opportunity for the program was six months later, and I had met every single one of the goals asked of me.
I printed off my stats and headed into a meeting I asked for with my manager, very confident that this was the time. I sat down, laid out my case, referred to my stats, and my manager sat and listened, and then at the end of it was when he told me his verdict. :You are too valuable as a salesman to risk you moving into management."
I was stunned.
I could not believe my ears. I even asked him to repeat himself, and was given the further context that they didn't have anyone who could take my place. That was the day I realized that what I thought was a progression plan for my career, was really a plan to get more out of me as an individual contributor,
A couple weeks later when a former colleague approached me about joining a company to launch Apple's first privately owned Apple store in North America I gave him a listening ear. Within two months of this conversation with my manager I had found a new role and was taking on a new challenge.
Focus career development plans on the best outcome for the individual, not the company.
So what is the takeaway here? Make sure that as people leaders the action plans, and progression plans you work on with your team have their best interests at heart. Because my former company still ended up with the same result that I was no longer on the sales floor for them. But instead of contributing to the success of the team through further leadership and sharing my skills and experiences I was doing it for a new competitor instead.